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8 Oct 2007 : Column 346W—continued

Flexible Working

John McDonnell: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what plans he has to introduce a duty on employers to provide flexible working arrangements. [154311]

Mr. McFadden: The Government encourage all types of flexible working across the workforce by providing detailed guidance, promoting the benefits and encouraging the sharing of best practice. We introduced the right to request flexible working, for parents of young and disabled children in April 2003. In April 2007 we extended this right to carers of adults. Over six million employees now have the statutory right to ask to work flexibly.

There is no evidence to suggest that we should place a duty on employers to provide flexible working arrangements. The right to request flexible working has been a huge success with four out of five requests accepted by employers. 87 per cent. of all employees are satisfied with their current working patterns and 90 per cent. of employees said that at least one flexible working arrangement was available to them if they needed it. We will continue to monitor the impact of the flexible working law.

Gas Distribution Price Control Review

Jon Cruddas: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (1) what information Ofgem took into account on the customer satisfaction performance indicators for the gas distribution networks in compiling its initial proposals for the Gas Distribution Price Control Review for 2008 to 2013; what steps Ofgem took to assess the implications of its proposals for the service provided to customers prior to their publication; and what factors
8 Oct 2007 : Column 347W
Ofgem took into account in assessing the implications of its proposals for customer satisfaction; [154289]

(2) what factors Ofgem took into account in assessing the safety implications of its proposals prior to developing its initial proposals for the Gas Distribution Price Control Review for 2008 to 2013; [154296]

(3) what factors Ofgem took into account on the safety performance indicators for the gas distribution networks in compiling its initial proposals for the Gas Distribution Price Control Review for 2008 to 2013. [154294]

Mr. Timms: The Gas Distribution Price Control Review is a matter for Ofgem. I am therefore asking the chief executive of the Gas and Electricity Markets, which heads Ofgem, to write directly to the hon. Member.

Jon Cruddas: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (1) what Ofgem considers to be the implications to the consumer of the gas distribution networks being unable to replace their ageing and highly-skilled workforces by recruiting and training a sufficient number of new employees to carry out vital emergency, repair and maintenance activities; [154293]

(2) what factors Ofgem took into account in compiling its initial proposals for the Gas Distribution Price Control Review for 2008 to 2013, with particular reference to the allowances granted to allow gas distribution network operators to recruit new employees to carry out emergency, repair and maintenance activities; [154292]

(3) how many gas distribution networks made representations to Ofgem prior to it publishing Document 125/07, initial proposals for the Gas Distribution Price Control Review for 2008 to 2013; and how many sought an additional allowance to allow them to recruit new employees to carry out emergency, repair and maintenance activities; [154291]

(4) what additional allowance Ofgem made in its initial proposals for the Gas Distribution Price Control Review for 2008 to 2013 to allow the gas distribution network operators to recruit and train new employees to carry out emergency, repair and maintenance activities; [154290]

(5) what steps Ofgem took to assess the safety implications of its proposals for (a) the consumer and (b) employees of the gas distribution networks prior to publishing Document 125/07, containing its initial proposals for the Gas Distribution Price Control Review for 2008 to 2013. [154295]

Mr. Timms: The Gas Distribution Price Control Review is a matter for Ofgem. I am therefore asking the Chief Executive of the Gas and Electricity Markets, which heads Ofgem, to write directly to the hon. Member.

Loans: Protection

Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform if he will take steps to prevent the exploitation of vulnerable people by home credit companies. [154386]


8 Oct 2007 : Column 348W

Mr. Thomas: The Competition Commission has been investigating the home credit sector and is now implementing remedies intended to make the market more competitive so that customers of home credit companies will get a better deal.

More generally, the Government have recently strengthened consumer credit legislation. A prime purpose of these reforms is to protect consumers from unfair treatment by lenders, whether in the home credit sector or by other credit providers.

Nuclear Decommissioning Authority: Information Officers

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform how many press officers are employed by the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. [154667]

Mr. McFadden: The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) does not employ a press officer as such, but the NDA’s head of communications and three communications managers cover a range of duties which by their nature include press relations.

Ofcom: Information Officers

Chris Grayling: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform how many press officers are employed by Ofcom. [154665]

Mr. Timms: I am informed by the chief executive of the Office of Communications (Ofcom) that there are six members of staff in the regulator’s media office, one of whom is part-time.

Office of Fair Trading: Information Officers

Mr. Spring: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform how many press officers are employed by the Office of Fair Trading. [154142]

Mr. Thomas: The OFT employs six press officers, one of whom is responsible for media handling for Consumer Direct—the Government's national consumer advice line.

Oil: Prices

Harry Cohen: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what the average price of oil was in each of the last 15 years; and what assessment he has made of the effect of trends in oil prices on business. [154093]

Mr. McFadden: Oil is a globally traded commodity and the rise in oil prices over recent years has affected all countries, not just the UK. Moreover, while the Government recognise that in recent years higher and more volatile oil prices have created problems for UK businesses, by increasing production costs and adding pressure to profit margins, several factors have helped limit the impact. Firstly, in real terms (current prices), oil prices have remained below the peak levels reached in the late-1970s and early 1980s. Secondly, the rise in oil prices has in part been driven by strong global
8 Oct 2007 : Column 349W
economic growth. Thirdly, UK businesses typically now have a lower intensity to use oil, given improvements in energy efficiency and the shift in the structure of the economy towards services. Finally, developments in financial markets have allowed businesses to hedge against the risks associated with fluctuations in oil prices more effectively.

The 2007 Energy White Paper (http://www.berr.gov.uk/energy/whitepaper/) sets out the measures the Government are putting in place to help improve the functioning of the global oil market, and to ensure that the UK's domestic market framework and supply infrastructure continue to deliver reliable supplies of oil-based energy at competitive prices, as they have done over the last 15 years.

Average price of oil acquired by UK refineries in nominal ($/bbl and £/bbl) and real (£/bbl) prices
Nominal prices $/bbl Nominal prices £/bbl Real 2006 prices £/bbl

1992

19.5

10.9

15.4

1993

17.1

11.4

15.6

1994

15.8

10.3

14.1

1995

17.3

11.0

14.5

1996

21.0

13.4

17.2

1997

19.3

11.8

14.7

1998

12.8

7.7

9.3

1999

17.9

11.0

13.1

2000

28.6

18.9

22.1

2001

24.5

17.0

19.4

2002

24.7

16.4

18.2

2003

29.1

17.8

19.1

2004

37.8

20.6

21.6

2005

53.8

29.7

30.4

2006

64.7

35.2

35.2

YTD 2007

65.5

33.0

Notes:
1. Prices for supplies received by refineries in the UK from both indigenous and imported sources.
2. Real 2006 prices calculated using the GDP deflator.
Source:
BERR

Oil: Reserves

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform pursuant to the answer of 20 February 2007, Official Report, column 658W, on oil: reserves, from which countries he expects the UK to derive its future requirements for oil in the next (a) five, (b) 10 and (c) 15 years. [154350]

Mr. McFadden: Oil is traded in a global market where prices and availability are determined by global supply and demand conditions.

As domestic oil production declines, the UK will continue to rely on the global oil market to source its supplies, allowing companies to have access to a diverse range of suppliers. Commercial reasons, for example geographical proximity, mean that in addition to Norway, Russia and the Middle East, increasing supplies are also likely to be sourced, via the market, from producers in the Caspian region and Africa over the next 15 years.

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform pursuant
8 Oct 2007 : Column 350W
to the answer of 20 February 2007, Official Report, column 658W, on oil: reserves, what estimate he has made of the duration of future (a) oil and (b) natural gas supply from all known sources from UK-based extractive sources. [154351]

Mr. McFadden: The Department does not estimate the duration of remaining discovered recoverable reserves of oil or gas. Production from the UK Continental Shelf is expected to continue for many years, though at a declining rate.

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform pursuant to the answer of 20 February 2007, Official Report, column 658W, on oil: reserves, if he will assess the merits of reviewing the analysis of those who promote a peak oil perspective of future oil supply. [154352]

Mr. McFadden: The Department will continue to keep abreast of, and to take into account, developing views and analysis surrounding future trends in the oil market, including in relation to future oil supplies.

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform pursuant to the answer of 20 February 2007, Official Report, column 658W, on oil: reserves, what assessment he has made of the implications of recent increases in crude oil prices for his Department’s calculations of oil supply. [154353]

Mr. McFadden: Global investment in oil production capacity has increased in recent years, resulting in an expected increase in future global oil production capacity. Higher oil prices—by increasing the finances available to oil companies and by improving the economics of higher cost projects—are one of the contributory factors but it is not possible to quantify the specific contribution. A range of other factors also interact to determine the level of investment and therefore future global oil supply, including technological developments, governments’ policies, supply chain costs, and other energy prices.

Domestically, the Department publishes projections of UK oil production every six months or so (most recently at http://www.og.dti.gov.uk/information/bb_updates/chapters/Section4_17.htm) and these reflect operators’ views of future oil prices. The projections change for a number of reasons and, once again, it is not possible to attribute a specific contribution from recent increases in crude oil prices.

Andrew George: To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform pursuant to the answer of 20 February 2007, Official Report, column 658W, on oil: reserves, what challenges he has assessed as representing the greatest impediment to affordable oil supply to the UK in the next (a) five, (b) 10 and (c) 15 years. [154354]

Mr. McFadden: The 2007 Energy White Paper:

sets out the main international (chapter 1) and domestic (chapter 4) challenges facing the UK in ensuring its supplies of oil remain affordable and reliable.


8 Oct 2007 : Column 351W

Internationally, the main challenge lies in recovering and bringing oil reserves to market. A number of factors have the potential to defer or restrict the level of future oil sector investment, undermining the affordability and reliability of supplies:

The Government are promoting international efforts to improve the functioning and transparency of the global oil market, and to tackle these barriers to investment.

Domestically, the main challenge is ensuring that UK oil infrastructure is able to cope with declining UK production and evolving trends in demand. Given the high volumes of oil the UK already imports, existing infrastructure is well placed to cope with higher volumes. However, UK refineries will need to respond to the challenges of:


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